New legal framework proposed for corporate offences

MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS AND LAW K. SHANMUGAM
MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS AND LAW K. SHANMUGAM

A new legal framework that can grant companies amnesty for certain corporate offences is being proposed in Singapore.

Deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs) could be offered to corporations as long as they comply with specific requirements, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam said yesterday during a dialogue with lawyers.

The framework is one of several proposed amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code and the Evidence Act.

"It is about time we had DPAs here where corporates can be taken to task and (where) they could pay a much higher sum compared to what the criminal law provides," Mr Shanmugam said at the Modernising Criminal Justice: New Developments in Criminal Procedure dialogue at The Arts House.

Under the proposed DPA framework, the public prosecutor can agree to dismiss the charges a company faces providing that it agrees to undertake strict obligations.

DPAs are already in effect in Britain and the United States. The framework is separate from prosecution against individuals.

All DPAs will need to be approved by the High Court, which must be satisfied that it is in the interests of justice and the terms are fair, reasonable and proportionate. The mechanism will allow for corporate reform. DPAs must also be published after the court approves them.

TIMELY MOVE

It is about time we had DPAs here, where corporates can be taken to task and (where) they could pay a much higher sum compared to what the criminal law provides.

MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS AND LAW K. SHANMUGAM

The announcement for the proposed legal tool follows an international corruption probe involving Keppel Corporation's offshore and marine unit. Keppel Offshore and Marine had entered into a DPA in the US.

The DPA framework was brought up during the public consultation for proposed amendments late last year, according to Law Society president Gregory Vijayendran. Speaking on the sidelines of the dialogue, he said the framework is "not a case of going light on corporations", but reflects a forward-looking approach for Singapore's open economy.

He added: "There is obviously going to be a focus on the many corporations who set up in Singapore who want to be able to carry on business and put a bad episode behind them.

"It does allow a very practical avenue for which there can be discussion for some protection in place for the public because the High Court is still going to scrutinise the matter."

Yesterday, more than 70 criminal law practitioners attended the dialogue, where Mr Shanmugam addressed feedback from the public consultation.

Last July, the Law Ministry announced 50 proposed changes to the Criminal Procedure Code and the Evidence Act. The proposed amendments were put up for a month-long public consultation last year and are expected to be tabled in Parliament this year.

Mr Shanmugam highlighted the "strong request" by lawyers to extend community sentencing. The amendments, if passed, will allow more offenders to benefit from rehabilitative opportunities as the eligibility criteria will be expanded in a "controlled manner".

Offenders who serve short jail sentences or have gone through reformative training will also be eligible.

The ministry is also working on taking video-recorded statements from vulnerable victims, such as those of serious sexual offences.

Citing the experiences of other jurisdictions, Mr Shanmugam said: "In sexual assault cases, a lot of the evidence suggests that the first statement that the victim makes is usually the most accurate."

The recording can reduce the trauma felt by the victim by minimising the need to repeatedly recount their ordeal and be used in place of oral evidence at trials.

Mr Shanmugam said that defence counsel will be given "good access" to these video interviews.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2018, with the headline 'New legal framework proposed for corporate offences'. Print Edition | Subscribe